Class 6A: Blue Valley North (9-3) vs. Derby (12-0), at Emporia
Another highly acclaimed matchup and the only rematch from last season. BVN, led by quarterback Graham Mertz, a Wisconsin commit, won 49-42 in the final minute last year. Mertz was banged up earlier in the year, though has again put up fantastic numbers. Mertz has thrown for 3,651 yards, and Cameron Burt has set a state record with 1,705 receiving yards.
Derby has enjoyed the best 6A scoring defense in more than a decade with just 87 points permitted. The Panthers challenged the state record for fewest rushing yards allowed in a season. Quarterback Hunter Igo and running back Tre Washington have led the offense. BVN has averaged 45.8 points a contest, while Derby has scored 46.2 points a contest. Derby’s scoring margin is sixth-best for an 11-man finalist in the last five years (60 finalists).
Class 5A: Wichita Northwest (12-0) vs. Aquinas (11-0), at Pittsburg
Northwest is well on its way to breaking its own state mark with 596 total yards a game. This marks the third straight year Northwest has averaged at least 50 points a game. The Grizzlies have averaged 58.2 points a contest but have permitted 27.8, worst by any 11-man finalist in the last five seasons. Northwest is in the finals for the second time, first since ’96.
Former Hutchinson coach Randy Dreiling has led Aquinas to its third finale since he took over the program in 2014. The Saints lost in ’14 and last year to Carroll in the 5A championship. The Saints are 0-4 all-time in state finals. However, Aquinas has an average score of 46-13, including big victories versus Bishop Miege and Mill Valley twice.
Sophomore Tank Young has set a school record with 1,743 yards and 22 scores. Aquinas has arguably the best offensive line under Dreiling (seven state titles) with Joe Michalski, an Oklahoma State commit, and highly rated recruits Matt and Jaeden Roberts.
Class 4A: Goddard (10-2) vs. Bishop Miege (10-2), at Topeka
Goddard has trailed multiple times this season, including the last two weeks in wins against Wellington and McPherson. Last week, against the high-octane Bullpups, Goddard intercepted McPherson quarterback Kyler Hoppes in the end zone in the final 30 seconds to secure the 15-14 victory. Goddard is 2-1 in one-point games this year under new coach Tom Beason, a former assistant.
The Lions led Class 5A in scoring defense the last two years and has permitted just 12.3 points a contest, fourth-best in 4A. Ben Bannister has cleared 1,000 yards the last two years. Goddard has forced 32 turnovers and junior Zeke Howell has 18 sacks. Goddard quarterback Kyler Semrad has helped the Lions throw for 1,966 yards with a 17/11 TD/INT ratio.
Goddard is the underdog against Bishop Miege, the four-time Class 4A defending champion. Miege has lost twice after a 50-2 mark in the previous four seasons. However, the Stags fell to Missouri power Rockhurst, 14-13, and to 5A finalist, Aquinas. Senior quarterback Sam Pedrotti has enjoyed an efficient year in his first year as the starter with 63 percent completion, 2,153 passing yards and a 24/9 TD/INT ratio. Junior Brison Cobbins has 1,168 rushing yards and 20 TDs.
Class 3A: Pratt (12-0) vs. Sabetha (12-0), at Hutchinson
One of the more anticipated state games features two of the state’s best players and running games. Pratt senior quarterback Travis Theis is one of the state’s top rushers in recent state history. He has three seasons of at least 1,600 yards. This year, he has rushed 195 times for 2,358 yards and 38 scores, including a 96-yard run last week versus top-ranked Andale. Senior Kadence Riner has enjoyed a standout year with 86 carries for 956 yards and 10 scores, and 20 tackles for loss. Pratt, which captured the 4A-II title two years ago, averages 367 rushing yards a contest.
Sabetha, the defending 3A titlist, has outscored teams 463-92, while Pratt is at 512-107. Both teams rank in the top-four in scoring offense and defense in 3A. Senior lineman Elliott Strahm, a four-year starter with Division II offers, has helped Sabetha average 311 rushing yards a game. Senior Joe Gruber has rushed for 1,286 yards and 17 scores, and senior Gabe Garber has delivered 1,057 yards and 17 TDs.
Class 2A: Phillipsburg (12-0) vs. Riley County (10-2), at Salina
Phillipsburg captured the 2-1A title in 2015 with an 11-2 record, the only trip to a state game before this weekend. Riley County, with 36th year coach Steve Wagner, has never captured a title but was second in ’88 and ’93. In the semifinals, RC scored two touchdowns in the final three minutes, and recovered an onside kick en route to a win versus rival Silver Lake, the first time beating SL in 22 years.
Four-year starting quarterback Trey Sides has thrown for 1,024 yards with a 19/6 TD/INT ratio. Senior Treylan Gross has rushed for 1,325 yards and 22 scores on 11.6 yards per carry. Senior Kasen Keeten has 135 tackles. Senior Jonathan Hunnacutt has set the all-time state record for career kicking points. This season, he has 91 points, including 8 of 9 on field goals with a 52-yarder.
For Riley County, junior Garrett Harmison has set the school record with 1,930 passing yards and has a 23/10 TD/INT ratio. Senior Mikey Waggoner has rushed for 1,147 yards and 22 scores. Senior Wyatt Earhart has 83 tackles, 17 for loss. This is the third straight season RC and Phillipsburg have matched up in the playoffs with the Panthers winning 49-27 and 48-13 the last two years.
Class 1A: Olpe (12-0) vs. Smith Center (11-1), at Hays
Smith Center is the defending 2-1A champion, while Olpe is back at state since its only title in 2014. These have been the top-two scoring defenses in 1A throughout the year. Olpe has allowed just 62 points, best in Kansas 11-man football, and Smith Center has permitted just 109. SC is 23-0 in the last two years when not playing Phillipsburg, 0-2 versus the Panthers.
Olpe defeated injury-riddled Colgan, 14-0, with a pair of drives in the first half. The Eagles have played without standout Blaine Hinrichs recently.
Smith Center has committed just five turnovers and is plus-25 in turnover margin. Senior Landon Zabel leads with 139 tackles, while senior Austin Hobelmann has 110 stops. Juniors Jaden Atwood and Joel Montgomery each have 11 tackles for loss. Seniors Ethan Peterson (1,184 rushing, 15 TDs), Colby Benoit (1,162, 21) and Hesston Maxwell (617, seven) have led the offense.
Smith Center has nine titles and a tenth would tie Lawrence for the most in state history.
Eight-Man, Division I: Solomon (11-1) vs. Central Plains (12-0), at Newton
Central Plains is looking for its first title since 2014, and Solomon is at state for the first time in school history. Solomon coach Steve Tiernan has won crowns with Baileyville B&B and Osborne.
For CP, coach Chris Steiner has led the best eight-man scoring defense since at 2006. The Oilers have allowed just 28 points and posted nine shutouts. The top-four tacklers are all seniors with linemen Grant Heldstab, Mason Doll and Brett Liebl, and linebacker Alex Hickel. Senior quarterback Myles Menges has accounted for 31 scores.
Solomon, beset by multiple injuries last season, has a six-win improvement and defeated Canton-Galva in sub-state after a district loss to C-G. Eli Basvic has had a breakout season with 120 tackles, 25.5 for loss. Quarterback Braden Neilson has accounted for 37 offensive scores, and senior Logan Krause has thrown for 1,119 yards and 25 scores.
Eight-Man, Division II: Osborne (11-1) vs. Hanover (12-0), at Newton
Hanover enters the contest on a 37-game winning streak. Since 1973, the longest eight-man winning streak is 41 games from 1985-88 by Almena-Northern Valley. The Wildcats have won the last two Division II state titles. Both squads have a bevy of experience, notably at quarterback and running back. Hanover has senior quarterback Daiken Stallbaumer and running back Carter Bruna, while Osborne has senior quarterback Darnell Holloway, junior running back Darrien Holloway and freshman running back Mason Schurr and averages 332 rushing yards a game. Both Holloways have cleared 1,400 rushing yards. Senior all-purpose threat Kade Miller has excelled on both sides of the ball and is among the state’s top defensive players. Osborne captured 2013 and ’16 Division I state crowns.
Hanover has significant edges in size and depth. The Wildcats list 24 on the roster and 15 to 16 play on a regular basis. Osborne has had a 12-player roster since Week 2, and just one player more than 200 pounds. Hanover has five players at least 205 pounds, Osborne one.